I don’t claim to know anything about dance. Heck, my friends constantly mock my club dancing (and who even sees that in semi-darkness after a few drinks?) and I couldn’t tell you the difference between a rumba and a foxtrot.
It’s not that I never appreciated the art of dance before; I just never ‘got’ it. However Sia’s video for Elastic Heart has completely changed my opinion through its emotion and beauty.
Yet it has also brought the light the debate of controversy versus art. Is this video really artistic or is it borderline paedophilic?
Before I share my opinions if you haven’t seen the video for yourself already I urge you to watch the video below, and decide for yourself how you feel about it.
Co-directed by Sia and Daniel Askill, who previously worked on Chandelier together, the video stars Shia LaBeouf, he of Even Stevens/Transformers fame, and Maddie Ziegler, the same girl who was previously in Chandelier.
Here is where the majority of the criticisms towards video come from. At the ages of 28 and 12 respectively Shia is a much older male performer than his female counterpart; and both are wearing neutral dance costumes. With regards to who was chosen for this video, Sia herself tweeted that ‘Maddie and Shia are two of the only actors I felt could play these two warring ‘sia’ self states’. In my view, regardless of age or gender, both were chosen for their talent, skill, and ability to full understand and get into a role. In reference to the nude costumes, I agree – initially it does look like they are naked in a cage together – however this is not the focal point of the video, there is nothing erotic about it. They are performing an interpretive dance and so their costumes are neutral so that we focus on their movements and expressions to understand the story that they are telling.
In my opinion I see these complaints as the sexualizing of a non-sexual video. It has an animalistic vibe to it, the two performers represent one person battling against themselves, with this struggle expressed through the choreography. If Maddie’s character was weak and submissive then the video would have a whole different interpretation. However what I saw was an incredibility talented 12 year old dancer performing beautifully; and an actor who I never would have associated with dancing give a wonderful performance that touched me deeply. She is portrayed as strong. Stronger than he is. I don’t get a sense of victimization.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Maddie herself summed up the video perfectly –
‘No one knows what the story’s about, and that’s a good thing, because you have to keep people guessing.’
The beauty of this video is in its ambiguity. I now understand through Sia’s aforementioned tweet that they represent two different sides of the singer. However there are definitely other ways of viewing the video – some see it representing Brother and Sister, or Father and Daughter, and I saw interpretation that the cage represented child-fame: Maddie still has the chance to escape it, whereas Shia has grown up within its confines and remains trapped.
None of these interpretations are wrong, and none of them are creepy to me. I see absolutely nothing sexual within the contents of the video. But it is all up to the individual’s interpretation. My understanding isn’t necessarily correct, and there are many who claim that there are paedophilic undertones to the video. I honestly believe it says something about our society if people see this video and immediately slam it as being ‘wrong’. Would so many people have the same reaction if it was an older woman and a younger boy?
On a personal note, I have young cousins and know people with first-hand experience of dealing with paedophiles. It is not something that I take lightly and just the thought of it makes me sick. But this video struck something within me – I initially read into it as a Father/Daughter relationship and maybe that’s why I feel emotionally connected to it. Regardless, from when he starts carrying her to the end when he is trying to escape and she is trying to help, it has made me cry every single time.
Sia has since issued an apology showing that she understands that it could potentially be triggering for many and may be toeing the line. Maybe this video was created to deliberately cause controversy. However as I have said above, people can interpret this video how they want.
EDIT 5/2/15: DanceOn have uploaded a video relating to the story behind the music video. It is worth watching!